Because of modern commercial, testing and fitness demands placed on current drivers many have decried the current crop as shallow and one-dimensional. Whitney Straight an ex-patriot living in England was anything but that. He raced in more Grands Prix than any American before World War II but because he lived most of his life in England, little is known of him in America. Born to wealthy parents in New York, in 1912, his father was a distinguished government officer who with his activist wife founded the New Republic magazine. Tragedy struck the family when Whitney’s father died in 1919. Six years later his mother married an Englishman and moved the family to Great Britain.
While growing up Straight was driven by two great passions, flying and motor racing. Reportedly he became the youngest licensed pilot in England at the age of 16. While at Cambridge he started to compete in various events and became friends with another student with racing in his blood by the name of Dick Seaman. Straigh made his first appearance in a competition event, at Shelsley Walsh in July 1931, driving a Riley Nine in the Amateur category. Straight was third, in a time of 60.1sec, compared to 56.6sec by the class winner and 57.0sec by the second-place car, all Rileys.In 1932 he entered Sweden’s Winter Grand Prix driving a recently purchased ex-Tim Birkin Maserati. Because Cambridge students were not allowed cars while attending school he would use his bicycle to ride to the local airport, board his own plane and fly to the event!
In 1933 school began to take a backseat to racing and a victory at Brooklands brought him to the attention of the British motoring press. Winning local events he embarked on larger battlefields, namely the Grand Prix circuits of the Continent. Fielding his own team he decided to go racing on a full-time basis. Straight, his personal valet and one or two team drivers would fly to the race while the cars under the direction of famous ex-Alfa mechanic Guilio Ramponi. One of his more successful teammates was Hugh Hamilton who unfortunately died during the Swiss Grand Prix in 1934. Straight won the Donington Grand Prix that year but knew that he would need a more powerful car to compete against the German Silver Arrows. He attempted to purchase one of the Auto Unions to no avail. The team impressed by his ability and short of front-line drivers offered him a chance for some rides in 1935 but by then he had made a promise to his wife to quit racing. His swan song was a trip to South Africa for the inaugural Grand Prix. Flying his own plane Straight was joined by future star and friend Dick Seaman. The trip ended successfully with a victory for Straight.
When the war came, Straight now a British subject joined the RAF. Credited with downing several German fighters he himself was downed by ground fire over occupied France. Captured he escaped one year later and with the help of the French Underground he made his way back to England were he resumed his flying. By the end of the war he was a much-decorated RAF Group Captain. He would later become managing director of BOAC and serve on the board of directors at Rolls Royce. Straight died in England in 1979 at the age of 66.